Category Archives: Work-life Balance

This company forces a random employee to take 2 weeks off every month

This is just too cool: Every month, financial-services company Motley Fool selects a random employee who gets 2 weeks off and $1,000. Their mission is to spend those two weeks on whatever they want with zero contact with the office.

They do this to show employees that it’s OK to balance work and life and not overwork yourself to death.

Genius!

Our new study shows bad work days are too common and what causes them

Almost 2 out of 3

Everyone has bad days at work – those really frustrating and stressful days that we just want to be over. But how how often do we have bad work days and what causes them?

Our brand new survey of over 700 employees worldwide shows that bad work days are disturbingly common and reveals some of the main causes.

See the main findings here - it’s pretty fascinating stuff.

 

Want better work-life balance? Learn from Denmark!

Copenhagen Balance

3 of my fellow Danes, Camilla Kring, Vivi Bach Pedersen and Anders Raastrup Kristensen have written a report on how Danish businesses have become more productive by focusing on work-life balance.

This is how they open the report:

The future can be found in Denmark. In this report we show how some of the most successful companies in Denmark developed their business through an innovative, results-oriented focus on balancing employees’ work and private lives.

  • Denmark has a unique position in the world when it comes to balancing work and private life:
  • Denmark has one of the highest participation rates for women in the workforce. (75% of women are in the workforce).
  • Among all EU countries, Danish employees have the highest degree of influence over their work.
  • (85% of employees indicate that they have an influence on their work situation).
  • Danish employees have some of the world’s most flexible work conditions. (43% of employees can regulate their work hours to meet their private needs).
  • Danish employees have some of the best maternity/paternity leaves in the world (combined one year leave per child).

The crucial insight in the report is that work-life balance is not about sacrificing business goals for the employees’ well-being. In fact, a good work-life balance makes the company more successful and profitable.

Read the whole report here – it’s clearly very written and has many tips and ideas for workplaces all over the world who want to create a

The Cult of Overwork is alive and well. Sigh!

The Cult of Overwork

European workers don’t work enough hours compared to Americans. That is the message in this article written by a London-based venture capitalist. From the article:

As anyone who’s ever been there or visited will attest, in Silicon Valley everyone is working *all of the time*.

And while this might seem unhealthy, not scalable, obsessive, manic or simply ridiculous, from an ecoystem perspective it’s basically unbeatable. If you want to build companies and ride the wave of innovation, it’s a 24/7 preoccupation — not just a lifestyle business. By contrast, I am in London-based startups’ offices all the time and I am gobsmacked when they are nearly empty by 6:30 PM.

I can see where he’s coming from – I really can. It’s so easy to equate “working long hours” with “commitment” and “success”. When you see the office full of people late at night, you automatically think “WOW, these people are serious – they’re going places.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but you’d be no less wrong. Please show me a single study that demonstrates the link between massive overwork (ie. working 60, 70, 80 or more hours a week for long stretches of time) and increased worker productivity and corporate success.

On the other hand, there’s stuff like this:

In 1991, a client asked me to conduct a study on the effects of work hours on productivity and errors…

My findings were quite simply that mistakes and errors rose by about 10% after an eight-hour day and 28% after a 10-hour day…

I also found that productivity decreased by half after the eighth hour of work. In other words, half of all overtime costs were wasted since it was taking twice as long to complete projects. After the study was done, a concerted effort was made to increase staffing.

(Source)

The cult of overwork is the prevailing belief that the more hours people work, the better for the company. That notion is not only harmful, it is dead wrong, as this story from Arlie Hochschild’s book The Time Bind demonstrates.

One executive, Doug Strain, the vice chairman of ESI, a computer company in Portland Oregon, saw the link between reduced hours for some and more jobs for others. At a 1990 focus group for CEOs and managers, he volunteered the following story:
“When demand for a product is down, normally a company fires some people and makes the rest work twice as hard. So we put it to a vote of everyone in the plant. We asked them what they wanted to do: layoffs for some workers or thirty-two-hour workweeks for everyone. They thought about it and decided they’d rather hold the team together. So we went down to a thirty-two-hour-a-week schedule for everyone furing a down time. We took everybody’s hours and salary down – executives too.”

But Strain discovered two surprises.

“First, productivity did not decline. I swear to God we get as much out of them at thirty-two hours as we did at forty. So it’s not a bad business decision. But second, when economic conditions improved, we offered them one hundred percent time again. No one wanted to go back!

Never in our wildest dreams would our managers have designed a four-day week. But it’s endured at the insistence of our employees.”

Interesting, huh? They cut back work-hours but production remains the same.

So where exactly is the evidence (apart from our own unexamined bias) that overwork is a prerequisite for success?

Your take

What’s your take? Would you only invest your money in a company where the parking lot is always full – even on Sundays? What does tons of overtime do to you personally? Do you get twice as much done in an 80-hour week as in a 40-hour week? What does it do to your life outside of work?

Related posts

Quote

Play at workThe Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion.

He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

– James Michener, quoted in this fantastic article about play at work (thx for the tip, Sridhar)

I agree totally and this is very much how I live my life these days. I perceive no real distinction between work, play and leisure.

Interestingly, this clashes with many of the recommendations around work/life balance, which often revolve around creating firm barriers between work and not-work. I previously wrote about why we shouldn’t seek work/life balance but work/life integration.

If you want to know more about play at work, check out Junkyard Sports and their excellent Junkyard Golf Conference Kickstarter kit. It’s a fun way to introduce play to even the most serious gathering.

Work-life balance links

Work-life balanceI’ll round of the Work-Life Balance theme this week with a few good links about it from other blogs:

Tim King on work-life balance and thought work

You can’t see a thought-worker’s thoughts, so you can’t measure them. You have to measure what you can see, and you have two choices. You can measure results, or can you measure how much time the worker spends sitting in his chair. But here’s the twist! The act of measuring the time spent sitting in the chair changes what results are achieved. And the act of measuring results changes when and for how long the thought-worker sits in his chair.

You have one life

For the longest time, I lived my life in two compartments. There was “work life??? and “personal life,??? all kept in place by an ever-teetering Work-Life Balance. What a silly concept. It’s actually a euphemism for “I don’t intend to let my job take over all aspects of my life,??? which of course can’t be said out loud in many companies.

Work-life imbalance

My friend told me an atrocious story. Actually, she told me a few of them, but I’m only going to share one of them with you right now.

There is no work-life balance

Work-life balance
One of the few moments in my life where I’m almost
guaranteed not to be thinking about work.
And that’s exactly how I like it.

The Work-Life Balance theme continues all week on the blog in honor of the Danish National Work-Life Balance Week. Previous posts on the topic here.

I previously reported on an an interview with Lotte Bailyn of MIT, who works to:

…rethink aspects of work in such a way that employees are able to live up to their highest potential in their work, and are also able to integrate their work with their personal lives. That is what we call the dual agenda.

That’s interesting work, and one of the most interesting things is that they specifically DO NOT talk about work-life balance:

We specifically do not use the term “balance” because it connotes that these two domains in people’s lives have to be equal; that it’s a balance scale – hence if one goes up, the other goes down. The underlying premise of our work is that this need not necessarily be so. We talk about “the integration of work and personal life” to show that work is also part of life. The term “work-life” implies that somehow the two are different, and of course they are not. Work is obviously an important part of life but shouldn’t be the only part.

That’s a very good point. Actually, I’d take it one step further. Looking at my own life, I certainly don’t see a work life and a private life. I just see one life, mine, being expressed in different aspects. And these aspects are so mixed and so mutually dependent, that it makes no sense to attempt to separate them. They are already as integrated as they can be, and there seems to be no time where I am 100% at work or 100% off work. I’m always just me, living my life.

If I could only work from 9 to 5 on weekdays and only “live” the rest of the time I would be much less happy than I am today. But then again, I’m an entrepreneur and self-employed. I have no demands on me, except for my own. If I had a boss (shudder) to report to, it might be a very different story.

That may be why some people who live like this find that work takes over and leaves little or no room for their private life. But that’s not integration, that’s more like disintegration :o)

What do you think? Do you prefer a clear separation between work and non-work? Do you want balance or integration?

Happy at work at DFD

Work-Life BalanceThis week’s theme on the blog is work-life balance in honor of the Danish National Work-Life Balance week. Read my previous posts on the topic.

I was at a party last saturday, and even when there I could’t stop talking about happiness at work. How’s that for not being able to separate work and “free time” :o)

Which was great ’cause I met a lady who works for De Forenede Dampvaskerier (DFD), a Danish laundry and cleaning company that employs 2.500 people. She told me that DFD has a rather extreme policy: Employees are hired to work 37 hours a week, and are expected NOT to work any more than that.

Leaders make a round of the offices around quitting time to make sure that everybody leaves. You can’t answer emails or phone calls outside the company. If you consistently work more than 37 hours a week, you will be called to a meeting with your manager, who will ask what’s wrong and how they can help.
Continue reading Happy at work at DFD

Ask the CHO: What can companies do for work-life balance

Ask the CHOThis week the theme on the blog is work-life balance in honor if the National Danish Work-Life Balance Week, and Ben asks this in my first post on the topic:

If I take vacation time (even if I’m just sitting at home), I get called at least once. And before the end of it, I usually log in to check email and make sure I’m not blind-sided by too much when I return. Unfortunately, in my position I give out my cell number to everyone when I’m on-call, so its widely known.

So the question I have for everyone is this: What can companies do to help employees find that work/life balance? I know when one of my employees goes on vacation, I get a list of items that may be coming up that I’ll have to handle, and then I refuse to call the employee or give out any number to reach them.

That’s a great question. What does your company do to help it’s employees achieve work-life balance? What would you like them to do?

Write a comment, I’d really like to know :o)